Joseph Beuys and the art market in the jubelee year 2021

The German Fluxus, happenings and performance artist Joseph Beuys had great influence on the German and European art scene as an artist as well as a theorist of art. He was born 100 years ago on May 12 in 1921. In occasion of this anniversary it seems to be appropriate to take a closer look at his position in the art market.

Since the beginning of this year more than 250 works by Beuys have been offered at international auctions. Furthermore, there are and were numerous exhibitions at institutions, especially in Germany. E. g. the university of Dusseldorf has organised under the leadership of Eugen Blume and Catherine Nichols and under the title “beuys 2021” several activities in the Rheinland. In Aachen, Bonn, Dortmund, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Krefeld, Munster and further museums and exhibition spaces there will be works, films, concerts, book presentations and symposiums on this exceptional artist. In the Belvedere 21 in Vienna there is another exhibition on a large scale entitled “Think. Act. Convey”. In addition, since last Sunday the exhibition “Von der Sprache aus. (Starting from Language)” at the Berlin-based Hamburger Bahnhof is open and from the end of this month on there will be an interesting confrontation of Beuys and Lehmbruck on view at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn.

Does this high media presence have influence on the market development of the artist?

First of all, it is remarkable that the quantity of works which are offered at auction has sharply increased this year. In the reference period of last year 2020 there were only 129 works coming to auction in comparison to 267 works this year. Nearly 20 % of the offered lots in 2021, 24 works, were sold for more than 10.000 EUR. In the reference period in 2020 only eight lots could exceed this limit. These numbers alone indicate an upturn of Joseph Beuys in the jubilee year.

This view is supported by another sale: At Phillips in London the threedimensional edition “Sled” (an edition of 50 from 1969) was sold on Monday for even more than 150.000 EUR. The widely known object “Capri Battery” from Schellmann in an edition of 200 from 1985 was furthermore sold for the stable price of nearly 20.000 EUR at the same auction in the UK.

To sum up Joseph Beuys’ jubilee year has aroused great interest in this artist – and inspite of the limitations caused by the pandemic there is an upward trend visible in his market value, more works are offered for sale and on top, they are sold for higher prices.

Forgotten Art: The Late Gothic as a New Field for Collecting Art?

From May 21, 2021, the Picture Gallery in Berlin opens its doors for the exhibition: “The Late Gothic Era: The Birth of Modernity

From today on the Picture Gallery (Gemäldegalerie) in Berlin shows an impressive new exhibition on late Gothic art in featuring some 130 objects, including key works from the German-speaking world in the 15th-century. Well-known artists such as Stefan Lochner, Konrad Witz and Tilman Riemenschneider are represented by important paintings and sculptures.

Even if this might not be the first impression, there are indeed some parallels between the late gothic art from 1500 and contemporary art. Especially the main changes of the ways of looking at paintings and the many innovations of new media, which happened that time, tremendously changed during these so different periods in art history. For our time, the invention of digital art has deep influences on our way of observing the world – have a look at my comment on NFL art from March 2021.

In the 15th century there is of course one great innovation – maybe the most important innovation of the middle ages at all – which had a deep influence on art in general and on the viewing habits of the population: the invention of movable types by Johannes Gutenberg at around 1450. The previous method of book making in hand writing was quickly replaced by his method of book making in printing. Texts and images were now reproduced in large editions, new ideas could be rapidly distributed around Europe. With the founding of big printing presses, the era of mass communication has started.

Printmaking became the most important artform – until today nearly all living artists edit prints. With the reduced price more people could afford to buy art works, this helped a lot to establish art for individuals. Paintings and sculptures became autonomous works. Before Gutenberg’s innovation, art was mostly produced for an elite – the church or the aristocracy. From the 15th century on, artistic prints were hang in the houses of the new middle class. With the rise of the bourgeoisie, art works became more individual. With the help of light and shadow as well as with the invention of new perspectives, faces and bodies of the represented people became more realistic. The 15th century therefore also marks the birth of individualism in art.

The now opening exhibition at the Berlin picture gallery represents a comprehensive selection of works from this German epoch, which happened simultaneously with the Italian Renaissance. Until today, the Italian Renaissance art is much more appreciated in the art world than the German late Gothic. Prices for Italian masters are very high – let’s remember the record price for the “Young Man Holding a Roundel” by Sandro Botticelli, sold in January 2021 for more than $ 92 million.

Even if the late German gothic is not valued the same way at the art market, there is one niche field of art collection which might be a good alternative for investments in the middle price range: the prints of the 15th and 16th century.

For several years there were nearly no prints dating from the late Gothic coming to auction. But since last year, there seems to be a change in evaluating late Gothic prints. E.g. Sotheby’s London has offered seven engravings by Albrecht Dürer in March 2020, four of them sold for prices up to $ 51.000,-. Next month the Cologne based auction house Van Ham will offer the sculpture “Man of Sorrows” by the workshop of Tilman Riemenschneider for an estimate of $ 30.000 to 40.000,-.

If someone is not familiar with this exciting and innovative period in art, it might be a good start to visit the exhibition at the picture gallery to get some own impressions of the visual vocabulary of the late Gothic art. Maybe a visit will be followed by the purchase of an Albrecht Dürer engraving one day…

London opens – Berlin closes

Last Friday, April 23, 2021 the new regulations of the German state come into force which shall help to reduce the spread of the Corona virus. In all German cities and areas with an incidence of more than 100 all museums, operas, theaters and other cultural institutions have to close apart from other strict regulations for schools and shops. Therefore all state museums in Berlin had to close Friday night. Friday was the last day where the residents of Berlin could visit the Nofrete sculpture at the Neues Museum, Priamos’ treasure at the Pergamon museum and the famous “Birkenau”-painting cycle of Gerhard Richter at the Alte Nationalgalerie.

From now on the incidence controls the culture landscape in Germany: an incidence over 100 means closure – under 100 means openings under restrictions. Since Friday there are no other criteria valid apart from the incidence.

In the meantime, the British government follow its timetable of lockdown loosening. Since the majority of the British adults are vaccinated the corona incidence is stable at a very low level. The roadmap for lifting the lockdown allows now several ourdoor activities. Since April 12, 2021 many cultural attractions are open again. Have a look at www.touristengland.com to see what you can visit now. With the permission of opening all shops, the galleries have reopened as well. They can be visited without a negative corona test or a special appointment booking. Have a look at www.galleriesnow.net/exhibitions/london/ to see which exhibition might be of interest for you.

Digital Art: $ 69 Million for a JPEG

Auction Record for Digital Art: A JPEG for 69 Million US-Dollar

Last Thursday March 11, 2021, a digital art work was sold for more than 69 million US-Dollar at Christie’s New York. The lot was sold at a standalone pure online-sale which had started on February 25. The work sold after bidding opened at 100 US-Dollar two weeks before. The title of the work is “The First 5000 days” and the artist calls himself “Beeple”. It is the first time in the history of the art market that a purely digital artwork was sold at a traditional auction house – Christie`s is a traditional auction house founded in 1766 in London which is known for its high-priced “real” art works.

The living person behind Beeple is the artist Mike Winkelmann. In 2007 he started to post one digital art on his Tumblr account. The record price art work “The First 5000 days” is a combination of his first digital images which he had posted since 2007 on the social platform. The buyer of the work calls himself Metakovan and is known as the founder of the virtual museum or NFT fund called “Metapurse”.

What does Metakovan, the Singapore-based founder, get for his millions? He gets a JPEG, a file with 319 megabyte – or to imagine better the size of the file – 21 069 by 21 069 pixels. With the JPEG comes a special certificate of authenticity called “NFT”: a non-fungible token. It is a file which is recorded on a blockchain. This NFT exists on the Ethereum blockchain so the price paid by the buyer is in the crypto-currency Ethereum. The auction house accepted payment for the hammer price in Ethereum, only the buyer’s premium had to be paid in US-Dollar.

Where does “The First 5000 days” exist? It exists on the blockchain which is something like a database whose transactions are recorded and distributed over several computers in the net. So the file is forgery-proof and can not be copied by anyone else but the owner of the special key in his certificate, the string of numbers and letters.

The interesting thought behind this exceptional price for a file can be described as follows: Every asset known as of today like shares, bonds, or money – can be transmitted on a blockchain – it can become a tokenized code. So far, art aimed to be more and something else apart from being estimated as a pure asset. Of course, art works were collected for centuries by wealthy and powerful leaders in the world to demonstrate their position in society. And naturally the owner of expensive art mainly hoped that the price he/she had paid for a painting or sculpture would increase and not decline. But with this sale of a NFT art is mainly reduced to an asset.

Now this file can not be copied – it is original and singular in the world. But it has no special size or any other haptic character. It is a JPEG which can be presented on a screen. For centuries art works were copied and sold as forgeries. On the one hand, this traditional problem in art history disappears with a NFT. There won’t be forgeries anymore. But on the other hand, there is no aesthetic moment any more – something which even fake works use to have.

This record sale is a step in the art market into one specific direction: Art is estimated as a pure asset. It can be valued like a second cryptocurrency. If the aesthetic value behind a NFT will completely disappear is not yet predictable. Sometimes looking at the past helps to evaluate the current situation.

Art has changed radically within the last 500 years. With Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the moveable-type printing the market for graphics was born. With Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invention of the photography the market for artistic photographies was born. And with George Maciunas the art world was enlarged by experimental art performances. Maybe Beeple will become part of this list of extraordinary figures in art history.

Anselm Kiefer at Kunsthalle Mannheim: Symposium on “Cosmos Kiefer – Materials, Themes, Reception”

  • Fridy, March 12, 2021, 10 am till 2.30 pm

  • Fee: 5 EUR

  • Registration is open at: https://shop.kuma.art/#/product/event/274?date=2021-03-12&date_id=6085

  • Participants of the panel discussion at 11 am: Klaus Gallwitz, Andreas Beyer, Esther Graf and Harriet Häußler

  • The symposium will examine how Anselm Kiefer draws on literature, religion and history. The artist’s choice of media and his way of creating images will also be discussed.

New Boom for Old Master in the crisis?

The virus holds the world still in its clutches. Millions of people cannot attend exhibitions in museums or galleries to see old or new masterpieces in-person. The art market has to cope with the ongoing situation of closed spaces and cancelled art fairs. At the same time there seems to be a new trend: extraordinary high prices for Old Masters.

When last month, on January 29, 2021 the beautiful painting “Young Man Holding a Roundel” came up for auction at Sotheby’s, this was one rare example of an original by Italian master Sandro Botticelli. The work dates between 1470 and 1480 and is said to be one of Botticelli’s finest portraits. The painting was sold at Sotheby’s New York for $ 92.1 million by American art collector Sheldon Solow, probably to a Russian collector. This marks not only a new record price for Botticelli but seems to be the second most expensive Old Master painting sold at auction after the spectacular price fetched by the famous Leonardo da Vinci work “Salvator Mundi” four years ago. At that time, the Old Master sector of the art market seemed to be at a difficult point: There were less and less collectors willing to pay for older works. The decline of the Old Master sector had two main reasons. First, there were less remarkable works available as only a few collectors were prepared to sell their works. And second, there is no guarantee to get an authentic work. Within the last years, we have seen some spectacular art forgery scandals in different countries around the world: the names of Beltracchi, Knoedler or Ruffini have reached an inglorious prominence in the art world. The consequence was that supply and demand for Old Masters seemed to stagnate. However, if one analyses the charts published by artprice, statista and other big data platforms for the sector of the Old Masters for the last decade, this turns out to be inaccurate.The Old Master sector is extremely stable – even in the difficult year 2009 this sector achieved good sales.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction sales worldwide from 2000 to 2017, by category in billion US dollars

Source: www.statista.com

The Botticelli sold last month seemed to emphasize this trend in the art market as collectors still seemed to be willing to sell their works – and at the same time that there is a growing interest to purchase important European masterpieces from outside of Europe. The bidder for Botticelli was likely a Russian and the underbidder was – as Sotheby’s stated – an Asian collector.

If we look at the last year’s auctions we can underpin the trend that the Old Master sector is stable. When Sotheby’s held its “Rembrandt to Richter” auction half a year ago in the middle of the pandemic crisis on July 28, 2020, the lots span works dating from the 15th century up to the present time. The marketing aimed to present the Old Masters as part of the global art history. Rembrandt was commercialized as an “old” superstar – he was named in one breath with Richter, one of the living superstars in the world. The auction was held as a hybrid event: The auctioneer stood on his rostrum in London facing screens where his colleagues next door and in New York interacted with bidders on the phone and with some in-person bidders whereas offers came in online as well. The Rembrandt portrait from 1632 fetched a record price for a self-portrait by the famous Dutch painter: It was sold for $ 18.7 million one reason is certainly that the sold portrait was one of just three self-portraits of Rembrandt which still belonged to private collectors and no to museums. The buyer of the painting came from New York, no details are out yet and the painting hasn’t been seen since then.

The Old Master sector seems to be a stable part of the global art market. Maybe in the current time people are longing for well-known and familiar names and subjects. If an investment approach is one of the motivations in some sales besides this yearning for established art might play a role as well. Some people have lost a fortune and need to sell their art works, at the same time other people made a fortune and look for a safe haven for their capital. It seems that an Old Master can survive even the current storm in the art market!

UK – the new Switzerland for the Art Market?

On January 1, 2021 the UK officially left the European Union. Which consequences does the new situation have for the players of the art market?

Of course, one thing is for sure: All players of the art market have to get used to the new regulations. The first weeks passed by like a bumpy start. Many shipments were cancelled, others are still not completed. The major problems are related to the new import and export regulations. Since January 2021 the UK and the EU are divided by customs border. The UK is now classified as “Third Country” like Switzerland. Every customs good needs to be declared when getting in and out of the UK. What do you have to do now to continue trading with the UK?

  • If you are an art dealer, an auction house or an artist doing business with the UK you have to apply for the so-called Economic Operators Registration and Identification number (EORI). Only with the EORI-number you can handle the movement of goods with the customs administration.
  • All goods shipped for permanent export with a value of more than 1.000,- € have to be registered at the automated tariff and local trading and settlement system of the customs authorities (ATLAS-system).
  • All goods shipped for permanent export with a value of more than 6.000,- € have to be registered by the registered exporters system (REX) at the customs so that the importer in the UK can declare exemption.
  • Check https://www.gov.uk/trade-tariff to get the updated information about new temporarily or permanent regulations.
  • All art works still have to be checked if they can get an Open General Export Licence (Objects of Cultural Interest) – all goods produced in the UK more than 50 years before the date of exportation such as photographic positive or negative with a value of more than £ 10.000,-, a painting with a value of more than £ 180.000,- or a portrait of a representation of the likeness of any British historical personage with a value of more than £ 10.000,- have to be checked if they might be of national interest. This is important for you if you buy in the UK and if you want to import art from the UK into your country. Check the full list for all art works at https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/export-controls
  • For all purchases in the UK intended for an import in your country, import tax applies -> An example for the purchase of a painting in a London gallery by a German collector with a value of £ 10.000,-: He has to pay 7 % import tax instead of 20 % value added tax (VAT in the UK on art works in 2021) -> £ 700,- instead of £ 2.000,- which is equivalent to a discount of £ 1.300,-. If the collector buys the same work in Germany 19 % VAT are applicable -> This still makes a discount of £ 700,-.

    -> The UK is now a Third Country like Switzerland in terms of a reduced tax but the registration procedure needs to be well prepared for a smooth handling.

What is different apart from these regulations?

  • If you travel to the UK you can stay there only for up to 6 months without applying for a visa. For any further stays (e.g. to study or to work) you need a visa if you were not resident in the UK by 31 December 2020.
  • During the pandemic you have to register online to travel to the UK with the confirmation that you will quarantine for 10 days. Furthermore, before you start boarding you have to submit a negative Corona test which must not be older than three days and which must be translated into English, French or Spanish (for visitors aged 11 years and older). During your 10 days quarantine you have to submit two further Corona tests on the second and on the eighth day after your arrival in the UK.
  • If you travel from a high-risk country such as Portugal you have to stay in a special quarantine hotel for 14 days at your expense (costs vary around £ 1.750,-). Violation of these rules can be sanctioned with up to 10 years imprisonment.

To sum up, the new regulations trading with the UK are now clear but need a simplification especially with regards to a digital solution. You will need an experienced art shipper.

At the same time purchases can be made at lower tax rates so it can be advantageous for buyers if they have time to wait until the works are shipped.

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